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Snuffbox with Concealed Watch

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Snuffbox with Concealed Watch

Artist: Christoph Wolff (possibly German)

Date: c. 1750
Medium: Gold, enamel, steel
Snuff box: 31.8 x 60.3 x 76.2 mm
Perspective glasses: 69.9 mm long
Markings: Movement: "CHRISTOPH WOLFF" Case lid: gold chaser's signature. "FC[?][?]" Dial: "Wolff"
Inscribed: Inside lid: "G.B.P."
Credit Line: Proctor Collection, Thomas R. Proctor Watch Collection
Object number: PC. 382
Label Text
Like watchcases, snuffboxes were decorated with repoussé work in rococo patterns of scrolls, flowers, and acanthus leaves. Most of the figural scenes were based on mythological or biblical stories.

Text Entries

Snuff, a preparation of powdered tobacco inhaled into the nostrils, gained acceptance in Europe at the end of the sixteenth century. Initially used for medicinal purposes, by the middle of the seventeenth century taking snuff had become a social custom in England. The habit was widespread by the beginning of the eighteenth century, and specially made boxes were manufactured to contain the powder. Designed and decorated according to the fashion of the day, snuff boxes were marketed along gender lines, their differing sizes, shapes, and decoration appealing to men or women.(1)

The use of repoussé work to decorate snuff boxes began about 1720, just as the technique began to be applied on watchcases. Decorative scenes whose subjects were taken from classical mythology were repoussé chased on matte ground.

Until the middle of the century the elongated pouch shape was the preferred form for snuff boxes, but, as this snuff box documents, the cartouche shape gained favor by 1760. Unlike most snuff boxes of this period, however, this one has a concealed watch underneath the double- hinged lid. The outer lid is decorated with scrolls framing a forest scene of the Roman goddess Diana, the huntress; an attendant; a putto; and two hunting dogs. The paneled border encircling the lid includes two putti and a dog with a dead hare on a matte ground. This snuff box is trimmed with a molded border similar in design to those on silver salvers of the period, especially those made by Paul de Lamerie (1688-1751).(2)

Opening the lid reveals a panel chased with scrolls, flowers, a bird, and a squirrel. The watch in the center is secured by a hinge at the right, while a square post to the left secures the winding key. The gold dial features an arcaded minute ring with roman chapters. The snuff box also contains a perspective (or magnifying) glass.

1. For more information on the history of snuff, see Clare Le Corbeiller, European and American Snuff Boxes, 1730-1830 (New York: Viking Press, 1966), pp. 1-18.

2. For an illustration of a pair of salvers with a molded rim, see S. M. Hare, Paul de Lamerie at the Sign of the Golden Ball: An Exhibition of the Work of England ’s Master Silversmith, 1688-1751 (London: Goldsmith’s Hall, 1990), p. 51, fig. 22.